Labour’s main tactical error – among many lesser ones, I’m sure, like most of the other parties’, except perhaps the SNP – was to agree to a general election before Brexit had been settled; either by voting Johnson’s ‘deal’ through – it was already halfway there, whatever Boris said about that nasty Parliament’s obstructing it – or by means of a second referendum. I imagine Labour was ‘dared’ into it by the prospect of the Conservatives and the press painting them as ‘chicken’ – or ‘frit’, to use Thatcher’s schoolgirl word – if they were seen to avoid it. The result however was to allow the election to be dominated by the issue of Brexit, and – so far as Labour was concerned – by many of its traditional voters’ deep resentment at its apparent equivocation on the issue. If Labour had either got its referendum in first, or waited for Boris’s withdrawal bill to pass, the question would have been swept under the table before a general election fought on the issues that Labour wanted to fight it on could be called. The electoral situation then would have been entirely different.
I imagine that extreme ‘Remainers’ – like the Lib Dems – were partly responsible for this, elevating the EU issue above all others. That was self-defeating. As most people are now aware, the election hasn’t ‘Got Brexit Done’, as Boris pretended, because of the long negotiations that still need to be pursued in order to finalise Britain’s relationship with the rump EU. Those could keep the UK within the – or a – European customs union, which is what Corbyn had proposed, and what he would have secured if he had been returned as prime minister. The Europhobe zealots wouldn’t have liked that, any more than the Europhiles, but they would have had to lump it. Then a new Labour government, which must have come about in these circumstances – the Tories were just waiting to be skinned alive – could have turned to their manifesto promises, and started building the new, compassionate, internationalist, egalitarian and above all hopeful nation that Corbyn seemed to promise to his young acolytes. As it is now, however the ultimate Brexit deal turns out, the Tories are left free afterwards to do their neoliberal pro-American worst to us.
I suspect that this was on Dominic Cummings’s mind all along. Brexit, being unfinished, could be ridden by the far Right to the sort of victory it wanted. Europe was only a means to this end. He’s a cunning bastard. (‘Cunning’ implying not only ‘clever’, but also ‘unprincipled’.) I don’t think we’ve given him enough credit for that.